Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"A strong chess player"

Thomas Powers, writing in the London Review of Books, last issue but one:
I was in Mitchell’s apartment once or twice – something to do with Christmas – but just about all our conversations took place in the street or in the lobby of 44, where I often came and went around drink time on a visit to one of Barbara’s friends, Ruth Tremain, who had taught maths to Army Air Corps pilots at Yale during the war. She was a strong chess player and we played often while I was writing a piece about Bobby Fischer. Because I had married Candace, on whom Ruth doted, she let me win a few games, but that didn’t last long.
Prior to reading Powers' article I knew nothing of any Ruth Tremain, but given that a Google search for "ruth tremain" chess returns only a link to the piece referred to above, is it likely that she was in fact "a strong chess player"?

Monday, June 29, 2015


White to play
Larsen - Reshevsky, Sousse Interzonal 1967

Some places have stopped being just places to me. That is to say, there are towns and cities with names that are no longer just names. They come with numbers attached.

Say "Reykjavik" to me - like most if not all readers of this blog, I suspect - and it rings the Pavlovian bell marked "1972". The same is true of many World Championship matches (Baguio 1978; Buenos Aires 1927), Olympiads (Lugano 1968; Thessaloniki 1988), Candidates' Matches (Denver 1971; Belgrade 1977/78) and tournaments (Hastings 1895, New York 1924), those quoted being but a handful of dozens which spring to mind. Some are famous (Zurich 1953), some I don't have the faintest clue what went on  (Ostend 1907), but I know that something did.

Places aren’t just places for me any more.  They’re locations of chess events.

13 a3
Fischer - Myagmarsuren, Sousse Interzonal 1967

Sousse is a bit different. It comes with a number and another word: Interzonal. I can’t hear or read "Sousse" any more without mentally adding "Interzonal 1967" at the end.

Fischer dropping out, going back and then quitting for good - but playing that game in the King’s Indian Attack against Myagmarsuren before he legged. The tournament may have taken place a year before I was born, but these are the things that come to mind when I hear or read of Sousse. Not that I did hear about the town very often before Friday.

White to play

It seems there was only one king and pawn ending at the Sousse Interzonal. It lasted precisely one and a half moves.

It's not tremendously difficult to evaluate the consequences of trading down. Not even for an average club chesser. I assume, therefore, that the pawn ending only happened at all because Reshevsky was in zeitnot as usual and that it was only on reaching the control after

59 Bxc4 bxc4, 60 Kxc4 Kc6, 61 Kd4

that he found he had time enough to resign.

Sousse? No.

Sousse Interzonal 1967. That’s how it’s been and - some twat with a rifle or otherwise - that’s how it’s going to stay.

King and pawn Index

With thanks to Angus

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Consecutive simultaneous

Brigitta Sinka isn't the only person giving a simultaneous this weekend. Just as he did last year, Jonathan Rowson is doing the same, in Fulham, and S&B blog readers are invited to turn up and play.

It's to raise funds for Brandlehow Primary School, which Jonathan's son attends, and it runs from 11 am to 2 pm. First come first served, though even if all boards are filled Jonathan expects (or hopes) to beat some juniors quickly enough to free some up.

It's five quid a throw for adults, three for kids and "further donations encouraged from those who can afford it". Cupcakes will be available at four for a pound.

Nearest Tube East Putney (District Line) and nearest overground Putney. If you're in London tomorrow, why not give it a go?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Gone missing

Who's Brigitta Sinka? I confess I'd never heard of her until, on my way home from holiday on Tuesday, I picked up a copy of MARCA, Spain's best-selling sports daily. To my surprise, the back page was full of chess, headed by a photo of the aforementioned Brigitta Sinka.

It transpires that Ms Sinka is hoping very shortly to overhaul the world record of 13545 games played in simultaneous displays, a record held by Capablanca, of whom I had previously heard.

This impresses the hellout of me, not leat because the one time I've given a simul, at which time I was approximately half the age Ms Sinka is now, I nearly died of backache.

So, best of luck to Ms Sinka in overhauling Capa's record. There was one odd thing, though, about the story, that puzzled me. What's this about?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Lack of practice makes imperfect

I'm actually playing a tournament next month. First time I've played proper chess since last year's British Championships. That's just a week shy of a full year between serious games.

I stopped playing regular chess a few years ago, for a variety of reasons which I won't bother going through here, but while I'm reasonably sure that playing less chess is good for you, it's not quite so good for the standard of your chess. Maybe less so when you're younger - I had a six-year break from serious OTB after 1983, and didn't play noticeably worse when I picked up the thread in 1989 - but when you're fifty it doesn't work like that. Bits go missing. Bits would probably go missing anyway, I know, but without regular practice they go missing all the faster.

I should have spotted this as a problem when [WARNING: A LOT OF BAD CHESS AHEAD] I played Chris Duncan in Penarth in 2012 and the game kicked off like so: 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Bf5 6. Nh4 e6 7. Nxf5 exf5 8. e3 Bb4 9. Bxc4. Now, without thinking too much about it, or perhaps without thinking at all, I played 9...Nbd7

which is the kind of error that makes you wonder why you bothered turning up at the board in the first place.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Magnus Carlsen vs Wili Schlage

White to play
Schlage - Ahues, Berlin 1921

So he’s on the way back. Carlsen’s win over Grischuk yesterday wasn’t the most convincing game he's played but I’m sure he’ll give not the slightest of shits about that. This was a case of any win will do. The =1 -3 he’d achieved after four games, with even the draw against Giri feeling more like a half-point lost than a half-point gained, causing uppity bloggers everywhere to ask, "Is this the worst start to a tournament from a World Champion in living memory?"

It’s harsh to have everybody talking about your failures when you’ve achieved so much, but them’s the breaks, I suppose. Still, if there’s a chessical afterlife I suspect there’s a guy who pegged it 75 years ago looking down on events in Norway and sympathising with the Champ.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Chess in Art Postscript: Flirty Glancing, Another Peep

This is the second post of two analysing that chess-in-art which employs a telling look passing between a lady and a gentleman. Last time we inspected A Game of Chess and A Hopeless Case by George Goodwin Kilburne (1839-1924), and pondered the relationship between the two players depicted, and the two paintings themselves. Here is an amusing, if anonymous and undated, pendant.

Playing Chess
European School
Cast your mind back to last time, and compare and contrast.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Probably Got Nothing to do with chess XIII

Professor Hayden Zalapek is long-dead to the world, a name forgotten by all who know him. Only as his daughter is dying is he summoned back from his half-life, and brought face-to-face with the grandson he doesn't know.

Or so it says here.

... to do with chess Index

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


White to play and obtain a lost king and pawn ending
Anand - Carlsen, Norway blitz, June 2015

I know he’s a good general, but is he lucky?

Napoleon, apparently

King and pawn Index

Monday, June 15, 2015


Kotov, A, Alexander Alekhine, Batsford, 1975, page 187. (Translation Ken Neat.)

Maybe. For what it's worth my computer doesn't consider the energetic 13...f5 as any better than the move Capablanca played: White just runs the h-pawn forward and then rolls over Black wherever he tries to hide his king.

The player of the White pieces, as you'll have gathered from the clipping, was Alexander Alekhine. The game was played at AVRO 1938 and was the last occasion on which the players were opponents. Capablanca was badly out of sorts over the board: the game was only the second that he ever lost on time. It didn't help that he was quite badly out of sorts physically during the second half of the tournament. Nor did it help that, as Kotov observes, he played this game on the day of his fiftieth birthday.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Chess in Art Postscript: Flirty Glancing

Thanks go to Jonathan B for alerting me some weeks ago to this nice bit of Chess in Art then doing the rounds on Twitter. It is also viewable on this excellent Chess in Art site, which tells us who created it - George Goodwin Kilburne (1839-1924)...

...though not precisely when, nor its size; and, although it must have been painted in the late 19th or early 20th Centuries, the scene depicted is earlier, probably around the 1820s (thanks go to my Every Picture Tells A Story colleague Richard Tillett for this assessment).

My curiosity, like that of the young lady, now aroused (and perhaps the young gentleman, in some part too, as we may see below), a couple of Chess in Art Postscripts ensue. They explore that small sample of chess-in-art wherein someone isn't looking where they ought. One other self-imposed criterion for this selection is that there must be two figures in the picture, one male and one female, and two figures only. If you were to go with the thematic classification of chess art set out by Yves Marek in his magisterial Art Échecs et Mat (2008) (discussed here, et seq), you might file them under Érotisme. And on that note, a warning for readers of a nervous disposition: this post contains adult material.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Obviously it has been overshadowed by the recent and entertaining arrests among the upper echelons of FIFA, but if you follow chess news you'll know by now that there are very serious allegations being made about the Bulgarian Chess Federation. There's a lot of detail, but to cut a longish story shortish I can't really do better than refer you to the summary in Peter Doggers' chess.com report: basically that excessive sums have been claimed under false pretences and then paid into an account in Slovenia which is unknown to the European Chess Union - but which is controlled by a similarly-named entity registered in Delaware.

These allegations represent (to use Chessdom's phrase) "deep trouble" for the president of the Bulgarian Chess Federation and for the president of the European Chess Union in the period to which the allegations relate. Both presidents are the same individual, one Silvio Danailov.

Of course these allegations, although being investigated by Bulgarian prosecutors, remain unproven in any court and the current leadership of the European Chess Union, which is pursuing the allegations, is in the hands of Mr Danailov's enemies.* Nevertheless they represent a serious embarrassment for Mr Danailov.

They also represent a serious embarrassment for the English Chess Federation, which voted heavily to support Mr Danailov when he stood for a second term as President in 2014.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

History lesson

From ejh, 7 June 2015:

Dear EdExcel

I am a history graduate who writes for a British chess blog and I was naturally interested in the prominence of chess on your GCSE specification. In particular this passage* caught my eye:
Chess has been played throughout the world for over 1,500 years. It was played by many of the famous characters in our History specification including William the Conqueror, King John, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.
I wondered: what is your reason in each case for stating confidently that these four monarchs all played chess?


Monday, June 08, 2015

Chess Today

White to play
Houska - Berry, 4NCL 2015

I like Chess Today. In fact I like it enough to more or less forgive it for having become Chess a Few Weeks Ago, some time back.

It’s certainly no fun reading news of Carlsen’s World Championship win after the kind of delay that you would consider a bit poor even for a print magazine. On the upside, there’s plenty of material that’s not time-sensitive and CT chief Alex Baburin seems to be catching up a bit now. The puzzle at the head of today’s blog arrived in my inbox last Friday in what was nominally CT's 11th of May edition. Hopefully we’ll be level pegging in the not too distant future.

Anyhoo, today’s position. White to play. Houska went 32 a4, ended up here five moves later

White to play

at which point she is, according to Chess Today, absolutely lost.

That White is going down seems entirely plausible. Outside Passed Pawns and all that. What’s less obvious - at least to me - is that White has a win in our starting position.

King and pawn Index

Friday, June 05, 2015

Going on a bit too long

Jaws is 40 years old this month. It’s a film that is - according to Mark Kermode - "One of the truly great and lasting classics of American cinema."  It’s a film that is - according to me - too long. It’s a great film, sure, but I’ve got a thing about the length of films.

Most movies - as the younger folk apparently now say - should be about 1 hour 40 minutes long. 1 hour 50 minutes at a push. Two hours is testing my patience. More than two hours is, in nearly every case, a director not doing his or her job.

Jaws lasts a touch over 120 minutes. Spielberg should have binned around 15 of them. Not 15 in a row, but shave a bit off here, lose a scene there and end up cutting around a quarter of an hour from the running time before the Orca leaves out of the harbour taking Quint, Hooper and Brody to their appointment with the Toothy One.

Before you start thinking this is a Probably Got Nothing … post, I’d better explain what going on too long has … to do with chess.

My chess season finished last Monday at 4:30pm. A strange time for a league game to conclude, but that is how it was. It was an unfinished game from a week and a half before. My opponent emailed me at 9:30 on the morning that the resumption was due offering a draw. I didn't pick up the message until late in the afternoon, though.

An adjournment that didn’t even happen and yet still went on too long. That isn’t the point of this post per se although as I come to write it, it kind of feels appropriate that the game, and my season, should end that way.

The chess was not particularly remarkable in itself. It could have been pretty much any of the league games that I’ve played since I began this particular form of entertainment in the late 80s.

What was unusual was that during the game - not before on the way there or afterwards on the way home, but right in the middle of the game - I found myself wondering whether I wouldn’t rather be practicing the piano rather than playing chess. For a good five minute spell I wasn’t thinking about  how to play the White side of a Maroczy Bind,  but was instead wondering whether nigh on thirty years of rushing from work, snatching something to eat and then trying to stay awake long enough to get to the time control might be more than enough.

I’ve thought about quitting loads of times, of course. Before, though, it was always after a bad loss and/or a more than usually extreme bout of chessboard incompetence on my part.

This time it was different. This time it wasn’t about a poor result or mediocre chess, it was simply wanting to be doing something else. This time it wasn’t about quitting the game entirely, it was about not playing league chess any more.

What it was, when all is said and done, was the thought that three decades of playing chess on work day evenings might be a hobby that has gone on a little bit too long.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Taxi for Sepp

The view has been expressed that Jack Warner is a cad and a bounder. The FIFA Executive Committee did not notice. I think that demonstrates ... oh this is obviously a preposterous line of defence. I’ll just get me coat.

NB: the photo of Sepp doing one is all over the internets but apparently originates with AFP

Monday, June 01, 2015

BORP? XXXV: Taxi for Stewart Reuben?

The view has been expressed that most of the nominated players are white. The committee did not notice this. I think that demonstrates we are not biased. 
Stewart Reuben, ECF Forum 28th May

The view has been expressed that I have not written a king and pawn ending post today. I did not notice this. I think that demonstrates I am not obtuse and overflowing with self-regard.

Anyhoo, let us imagine for a moment that you, dear reader, are unhappy with this state of affairs. What would happen then? One thing you could do would be to take your chess blog reading custom elsewhere. Decide never to return, perhaps. After all, other chess-themed websites are available.

You would have a choice. You might even - though heaven knows why - decide to read the rest of this post. A post in which it’s the democratic deficit at the heart of the ECF that turns out to be important and Stewart Reuben himself is entirely insignificant.